When Mandy Ferreira, ‘13, was in high school she saw a video by oceanographer Charles Moore on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the Pacific Ocean strewn with plastic debris that is twice the size of Texas. Shocked that such a repository of plastic waste could exist in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Mandy began to think seriously about the actions that caused this “plastic island” to form.
“It made me really rethink not only the way my family had been living,” she remembers, “but also how the rest of the people in the U.S. had been living.” Mandy explains that at the same time as she was reflecting on her own and others’ living habits, she became aware of the vast amount of chemicals found in personal care products and other consumer goods. These stark realizations sparked Mandy’s interest in environmental issues and set her on a quest to make her life and the lives of others more sustainable.
As a Communication and Environmental Studies double major, Mandy took an online journalism class as a sophomore for which she created her own sustainable living blog. Mandy explains that she had constantly been telling her family and friends little methods of living more sustainably, but she was frustrated over how little her friends at Santa Clara actually knew. She saw the blog as a way of reaching out to her peers to engage them and give them tips based on her own experiences living more sustainably, and when the class ended, she didn’t stop.
Mandy continued blogging regularly, and she would like to refocus her attention on the blog this coming year after balancing three jobs during the summer. She admits, however, that blogging every day is a challenge, especially with all the demands of being a student.
Regardless of whether or not she is blogging every day, though, Mandy makes choices that reflect what she writes in her blog. It’s a measure of self-control, she says. “The blog has really made me question everything I do, and it has helped me to better reflect and be aware of my own decisions. When I’m thinking about buying something or when I really just want to drive the few blocks I could easily walk or ride my bike, I think about all of the things I say on my blog and about how, if I am going to tell people these things, I need to live them, too.”
Mandy doesn’t see her blog or her pursuit of a more sustainable life ending anytime soon, either. She wants to continue blogging after college, focusing on how to live sustainably on a tight budget. She is considering a name change, but can’t quite decide on one. “Although honestly,” she says, revealing a sophisticated sense of humility, “I might just keep Sustainable Student--there is always something new to learn about living sustainably.”
Perhaps the most refreshing part about Mandy’s undertaking is that she refuses to get discouraged, and even more importantly, she does her utmost to keep other people from giving up, too. “I think a lot of people feel discouraged by environmental news and the challenge to live more sustainably,” she says. “People think it’s expensive, that they can’t do the things they like, that it’s an inconvenience, that they simply can’t do it... the list goes on.” She wants to confront these misconceptions head-on.
Mandy humbly admits she’s not an expert and she’s not trying to be--she simply wants to help people realize what she did: that living more sustainably can be done cheaply and that it really isn’t all that difficult. That is why she stresses the little things, the things we all do without thinking. Her advice is to start small because every change matters, and several simple habits such as walking or riding a bike to anywhere within a mile or taking a shorter shower can make a huge difference. “Once you get started,” she explains, “it becomes much easier to keep taking steps toward living more sustainably.”
As the new school year is starting, Mandy hopes incoming students are especially conscious of what they can reuse. “People tend to get a lot of new things at the beginning of the school year, so remembering to buy used, to reuse everything you can, and to re-purpose old items is a great way to be more sustainable,” she advises.
While we are all capable of making simple decisions to join Mandy in her quest to live more sustainably, it can seem overwhelming at times. Mandy admits she was quite overwhelmed herself at first, but as she came to terms with the fact that every single choice has an impact on the environment, she felt that it became easier to make simple choices that had a positive impact instead of a negative one. “Now living more sustainably is empowering for me,” she proudly states. “I feel like it’s one way I can really make a difference, and throughout the whole process, I have learned to be a more independent adult.”
Mandy is the Managing Editor at The Santa Clara and frequently writes sustainable living columns, but her blog is a great place to find tips and stories on sustainable living. She also has the self-proclaimed world’s biggest sweet tooth and frequently passes delicious recipes on to her readers. The pictures in this article came directly from Mandy's blog!
After graduating, Mandy would like to work for a newspaper, magazine, or other publication. She would ultimately like to work as an editor and to do some environmental writing on the side.
By Aven Satre-Meloy, '13 Sustainability Intern -- Communications